Building sound relationships from scratch

The car stops. Within seconds you’re opening the vehicle’s passenger door and eyeing the driver.

A short conversation ensues concerning the direction and destination of both parties. But in truth the verbal exchange simply masks the more important stuff, because the decision to accept a lift is never a small one. You’re checking out the driver’s appearance and the state of the vehicle; you listen to tone; smell the air. And if they’ve got company, there’s many more judgements to make.

Rugby legend

Sometimes the decision is easy and delightful. For example, whilst hitching north of Aberystwyth I opened the door of a large gleaming Mercedes only to set eyes on a world rugby legend sitting at the wheel (read on). Then there’s the bizarre, like the time I slung back a minibus door to be greeted by a group of singing builders (with an unusual passion for scaffolding) . And of course, the real challenges; when your sixth sense (which is developed through experience) suggests something isn’t right.

And that ‘dynamic’ of meeting new people is the same in business. Entrepreneurs cannot wait for people to come to them. This necessarily means going out to see people and working in unfamiliar territory and different situations. This stretches the comfort zone and initially puts you out of control, but with practice and experience, patterns of behaviour emerge and confidence grows.

It’s accepted that people are typically far less relaxed when they meet others for the first time. These first few critical seconds and minutes can be awkward. But just like the hitchhiker, the entrepreneur has a vested interest in developing judgement skills, using time efficiently and being liked by people they meet.

Judgement Skills

According to leadership expert Carol Kinsey Goman, first opinions about people are typically formed within the first 7 seconds.  As a hitchhiker I rarely spent much time talking about directions before getting in the vehicle. And I reckon I can count on one hand the lift offers I actually rejected. And these ratios reflect almost exactly my first-time meetings with people in business. Within seconds I’ve decided the person in front of me isn’t a complete lunatic and it’s likely that the time will be well spent.

As part of any assessment it’s important not to just listen to what people say when you first meet them. If you’re in their office what does the rest of the room tell you about them? How well do they dress? How much interest do they take in you? How do they behave towards others? Answers to these questions provide clues about the person/people with whom you are dealing and you are able to adjust your own behaviour accordingly. You’ll find many other articles within this blog that focus on relationships and human behaviour.

Questions and listening

Back in the Wales, my unexpected meeting with Welsh rugby legend Gareth Edwards (and scorer of the greatest try in rugby history) will live with me forever. But  throughout that memorable journey, winding through the valleys, I enjoyed listening to his take on life, how his sporting career started (as an 18 year old he hitchhiked to his first pre-match Welsh rugby training session and was picked up by a journalist tasked with discovering the brilliant new scrum half!) and of course why he picked me up. As such, Gareth did most of the talking and I just listened. This simple dynamic works in a very powerful way and builds relationships because it is based on the following principle:

…the most important person in our own world is ourselves and given the opportunity we typically ‘like’ to talk about ourselves. 

Liking

Within the pages of the must read book ‘Influence: Science & Practice‘, world-renowned author Robert Cialdini devotes a whole chapter to the issue of ‘Liking’. Critically, we like people who take a genuine interest in us and the easiest way to demonstrate this is to ask questions and listen to what people say.

The entrepreneur who seeks genuine (don’t be insincere) interest in prospects, customers, suppliers and staff, makes people feel good about themselves and thus builds stronger relationships. By contrast, the person who talks endlessly about themselves falls into a common trap. They bore quickly and struggle to build quality relationships.

As a hitchhiker it was always my way to encourage the driver to talk about themselves. Not only was it interesting to learn about their lives, but they typically drove me further (Gareth very kindly went an extra 20 miles).

However, people are different and some are cautious about revealing information. When I hitched some didn’t want to talk at all. But by tuning into situations it was possible to adopt appropriate strategies that reflected the needs of the individual with whom I travelled.

Key Learning Points: Regularly meeting new people makes you a better judge of others and situations. Actively seek non-verbal and verbal clues to help you assess others and create a positive influence by asking questions and listening to what’s said.

[Read more...]

Bootstrapping: My way on the business highway

BootstrappingshoesFailure has a wonderful capacity to reveal opportunities that otherwise remain hidden.

Disastrous ‘A’ Level results in 1984  forced me to take a gap year. Whilst I envied friends destined for university, part of me delighted in the chance to step off the education treadmill… [Read more...]

How to brand a small business

If you want to know how to brand a small business you can learn much from the world of hitchhiking. ‘Unsafe’, ‘risky’, ‘dangerous’ and ‘unadvisable’ were some of the words that people used to describe the subject in a recent straw poll I conducted.

Okay, it wasn’t scientific research. But, I’m fairly sure these negative feelings (or brand perceptions in business speak) are relatively commonplace. Whether it’s justified or not, hitchhiking in the UK has got itself a bad name and it’s perhaps no surprise to see far fewer people on the roads now compared to 20 years ago.

What can budding entrepreneurs learn from hitchhiking’s misfortune?

How to brand a small business

How to brand a small business

Branding a small business is like developing a personality. A key human behaviour driver is the need to be liked by others; so we shape how we look and come across accordingly. The same principles apply when learning how to brand a small business.

So the first tip is not to fall into the trap of the ‘me first’ process when creating a brand. It’s all too easy to create a name, choose colours, fonts and materials etc. that are based solely around what you as the business owner likes. You need to take into consideration how the target audience will respond and feel.

If you think about and consult your potential customers when considering and developing a brand, your product or service offering is far more likely to appeal to prospective buyers.

More haste less speed

The second lesson is not to rush the process. The brand identity is your shop window; and if the detail is not thought through at the beginning it will look wrong, date quickly and adversely affect trade. The only solution will then be to re-brand and in effect start again which of course costs money and time.

Finally, some people confuse brands with logos. Whilst the creation of a logo typically needs careful thought and attention, it is only a visual representation of your overall brand and thus a small part of the whole branding exercise.

For more information on brand principles take a look at Branding Strategy Insider and Brand Identity Essentials. You are bound to find some great ideas that will help you to build your business brand.

Developing a brand that performs

As mentioned at the start of this article, the two words ‘Hitch’ ‘Hiking’ when used together evoke strong feelings. Unfortunately they tend to be negative emotions. Only two days ago a friend said he thought I was crazy when I suggested I’d hitchhike again later this year. Yet there is no evidence to show hitching has become a more dangerous method of travelling. It is all perception, but perception is everything.

So when developing a brand for your small business, you are creating a personality. You will naturally want people to react in a positive way to it. For example, if you are developing a hi-tech company you will probably want your brand to evoke the following feelings: cutting edge; reliable; professional; dynamic etc.

Alternatively, if you are looking to start a courier company you will want your brand to convey: reliability; speed; no hassle; ease of use etc. And all of this has to be wrapped up in the name, design, use of colours, strap-line, materials; in-fact everything that is customer facing and thus communicates the brand values.

Getting the message absolutely right takes time and probably money. So there is a good argument for keeping things as simple as possible to start, rather than worrying about too much detail. As your small business grows so the brand can be developed and enhanced in line with feedback and your personal aspirations.

Consistency

Finally, the brands that perform best are ruthlessly consistent.. Think of people’s personalities that you really like and you realise that you enjoy their company because you know where you stand with them. They are completely consistent. Unlike people whose behaviour is erratic, leaving you and others on eggshells or at a distance.

Throughout my hitchhiking ‘career’ the brand personality I conveyed at the roadside remained consistent. I always wanted people to see me as a non-threatening, easygoing individual who was travelling with a purpose.  Given the chance, I would always look at the driver and if eye contact was gained (regardless of the Anglo Saxon expressions and gestures I occasionally received) I would smile.

It worked for me. When I go hitching later this year all those principles will be applied again. I look forward to thumbing lifts and travelling far this year…

Key Learning Points: In learning how to brand a business, treat your brand as a personality and shape it so that people see you in a positive light. Being ruthlessly consistent with the brand means your customers won’t be confused about what you do and offer.

Startup businesses must focus

Startup businesses must focus

Startup businesses must focus

Startup businesses must focus in order to succeed. From an early point in my self-employment journey I regularly used these 4 questions to help my venture stay on track.

  • Where have I come from?
  • Where am I now?
  • Where do I want to go?
  • How do I get there?

[Read more...]

Achieving business competitive advantage

Watford Gap Service Station on the M1 is the only place where I have encountered real competition for a lift. Hitchhiking north from London one sunny Sunday afternoon, I was dropped off at the services only to find myself staring at a long queue of hitchhikers all desperate to travel my way. Buggar! [Read more...]

Succeed with a market focused strategy

Succeed with a market focused strategy

Succeed with a market focused strategy

Businesses that have learnt how to succeed with a market focused strategy are far more likely to survive and thrive.

Unfortunately, far too many small businesses adopt a product focused strategy and fail to understand the market(s) being served. Research is considered a distraction rather than the guiding light. And this is a key reason why so many businesses fail early… [Read more...]

Killer business plans

What do killer business plans really achieve?

What do business plans really achieve?

My decision to hitch that cold, blue-sky October morning, was pure instinct. In fact, if it had been planned, it probably would never have happened.

Stood alone at the Keswick bus station not long after sunrise, I learnt a journey to Nottingham would set me back a whopping £12. Aged 17, that was a lot of dosh (1983 – 65p a pint)… [Read more...]

Think like an entrepreneur

If entrepreneurship is an atttitude of mind, how do you think like an entrepreneur?

If entrepreneurship is an atttitude of mind, how do you think like an entrepreneur?

Being entrepreneurial is an attitude of mind. It’s not so much a skill but a way of thinking. Since childhood I’ve been curious. Discovering ideas and doing new things has always been important. And the wiring of my brain means I enjoy meeting new people, but I also crave privacy. And I love to travel.

[Read more...]